New South Wales batsman Kurtis Patterson raises his bat after scoring a century during the first day of the Sheffield Shield match against Queensland at the Gabba last month.
New South Wales batsman Kurtis Patterson raises his bat after scoring a century during the first day of the Sheffield Shield match against Queensland at the Gabba last month. DAVE HUNT

Test spots on the line as players sent back to Shield

CRICKET: Australian cricket clearly didn't think too highly of the competition when planning its summer schedule.

But the Sheffield Shield will suddenly take centre stage over the next four days as Australia's embattled cricketers return to their respective states to try to gather some form.

As many as six players could be fighting for their spot in the team to contest the third Test in Adelaide - and in turn try to stave off another loss to South Africa, which would result in the Aussies' first ever series whitewash on home soil.

There was just one round of the domestic competition played before the start of the Test series in Perth.

Much of the focus over the coming days will be on the Gabba, where Queensland hosts South Australia.

The Bulls' Joe Burns and Usman Khawaja and the Redbacks' Callum Ferguson will be desperate to spend some time in the middle, though Bulls coach Phil Jaques says it won't be easy.

Jaques said the Gabba wicket had regained its "pace, carry and seam”.

"It is definitely a test,” he said. "Guys will have to earn their runs.”

Khawaja looks safe for the Adelaide Test after a second-innings 64 in Hobart - he is now the second highest Australian run scorer for the series (169 runs at 42.25). But Burns managed just one run across both innings after regaining his place from the injured Shaun Marsh (finger), while Ferguson made three and one.

"Usman has played well in both Tests so far,” Jaques said. "I'm a big fan. I think he showed some fight.

"And Joe will come good. He would have liked to have scored more runs but he will bounce back.”

While Australia is staring down the barrel of a sixth straight Test defeat, Jaques denied there was a lack of depth at state level after Australian great Ian Chappell suggested the "system was broken”.

"Shield cricket is strong,” he said. "I don't think we should be throwing all Shield players under the bus and saying the system is not working.”

In other games, New South Wales will host Victoria at the SCG while Western Australia welcomes Tasmania to the WACA.

As veteran Adam Voges faces the axe from the Aussie XI, now having gone 10 innings without a half-century, young batting tyros such as Kurtis Patterson and Nic Maddinson (NSW), Jake Lehmann and Travis Head (SA) and Cameron Bancroft (WA) should strike while the iron is hot.

Sixteen of Australia's 20 dismissals in Hobart were for single-figure scores, the worst tally since 18 fell for under 10 against England at The Oval in 1912.

"The Aussie batters, they just didn't know where to go, what to do,” Ricky Ponting said on BT Sport.

"They got very defensive-minded and when they do that - it's been shown through this Test series - their techniques aren't good enough to stand up.”

The competition's leading wicket-takers, South Australian Chadd Sayers (17 wickets) and spinners Ashton Agar (13) and Jon Holland (11), meanwhile, will also push their claims.

Australia's most successful off-spinner, Nathan Lyon, has claimed the figures of 2-241 in the two Tests against South Africa.

The Aussies' loss in Hobart means it has been their worst start to a home series in 28 years, but at least in 1988-89 they had they excuse of facing a rampant West Indies. This time they are playing a Proteas team ranked fifth in the world and now minus their best batsman (AB de Villiers) and best bowler (Dale Steyn).

Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland rejected calls for another review into the game, but he couldn't downplay "how serious and challenging the situation is”.

"Three months ago, we were the No.1 Test team in the world and the No.1 one-day team in the world,” he said.

"It is a very significant fall from grace and we will need to ask ourselves some questions as to why or how this has happened.”

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